Indiana sees English, math scores drop on standardized tests


INDIANAPOLIS — Fewer than one-third of elementary and middle school students in Indiana recorded passing scores on the latest round of state standardized tests, results released Wednesday show, confirming education officials’ concerns that the coronavirus pandemic has fueled substantial learning losses.

The Indiana Department of Education released results from the spring ILEARN exam that show 40.5% of students are at or above proficiency standards in English/language arts, and 36.9% are at or above proficiency standards in mathematics.

Only 28.6% of students statewide in grades three through eight tested proficient in both English and math, a drop from 37.1% the last time the test was administered in 2019.

State data showed “significant” gaps persist among racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic student groups. For example, just 8% of Black students in Indiana passed both the English and math sections, compared with 46.5% of Asian students, 34.7% of white students, and 15.6% Hispanic students.

Indianapolis Public Schools, which has one of the highest proportions of disadvantaged students in the state, saw only 10% of its students pass both English and math. Neighboring Warren Township schools reported fewer than 8% of students who tested proficient. In northern Indiana’s South Bend Community Schools, 7.5% of students had passing rates on both sections of the exam.

“These results confirm what we expected, and what we now know — student learning was significantly impacted by COVID-19,” Indiana Secretary of Education Katie Jenner said. “This data cannot be an indictment on anyone, on anything, on any school. The reality is all of us had a global pandemic.”

Wanting to monitor student progress during the pandemic, Indiana education officials still required schools to administer standardized tests in spring of this year, even as many students across the state received instruction virtually or on a hybrid model. The state recorded 97% participation rates on both the English and math sections of the tests for students in grades three to eight, according to the state Education Department.

ILEARN was first administered in 2019. It measures proficiency in various subject starting in third grade, but the main focus is on English/language arts and mathematics in grades three through eight. With federal permission, the assessment was not given in 2020 due to pandemic-related school closures.

State education officials emphasized the 2021 test results should not be compared to those in 2019. Instead, Jenner said schools are being encouraged to use the results to plan how to recover from the pandemic’s effects on student learning.

“This data establishes a new baseline for us as a state,” Jenner said. “These are not problems that anyone can fix overnight. This is going to take an extended effort just to get us back to where we were.”

Earlier this year, state legislators passed a “hold harmless” measure for schools, preventing poor results from affecting accountability measurements or teacher evaluations. It also required the completion of an academic impact study to gauge the effects of the pandemic on student learning.

“Unfortunately, the ILEARN results we saw today are not overly surprising given the extremely challenging events and extenuating circumstances our students, teachers, schools and families have faced over the last year,” Republican Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray of Martinsville. “At no fault of anyone, our students now face a long road ahead to catch up in their studies.”

Indiana’s Education Department last month began issuing $122 million in grants to enhance summer learning programs to get students back on track as soon as possible, providing academic and social emotional support for students. The grants are part of $150 million in state funding the Indiana General Assembly set aside to address learning loss earlier this year.

Casey Smith is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

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